The Russian Countess – Edith Sollohub

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Edith Sollohub was the daughter of a high ranking Russian diplomat, living in luxury on a large estate in St Petersburg. Her lavish lifestyle was brought to a halt by the Russian Revolution of 1917. Edith was separated from her family and had to endure imprisonment, hunger and loneliness. The Russian Countess is her memoir, giving detailed descriptions of her life as a child and her miraculous story of survival through the hardships of War.

I don’t read many memoirs, but the true story of a Russian Countess forced into unimaginable hardship really appealed to me – I find discovering how real people cope with a tradegy a fascinating subject.

The book was packed with photographs and documents which enriched the reading experience for me. It was lovely to see her family growing up!

The pace of the book was very slow. The story sometimes got lost as every person and tiny event was described. It was beautifully written, but at times I found the wordiness and intricate details too much.

Edith’s early life on the estate bored me. Stories of parties, dance lessons and numerous hunting trips held little interest for me. Her fascination with guns was especially alien to me and I often found my mind wandering from the page when she started shooting furry things. 

The book improved as things started to go wrong for her:

Strangely enough there was a certain lurid attraction in this complete disorganisation where everyone depended only upon his own self, his ingenuity, his courage, and frequently also upon his sense of humour or sporting spirit. Maybe in saying this I am expressing the feelings of those who were still young at the time and who had been smiled upon by fortune until then.  

I loved learning about this period of history and was amazed at the real life coincidences that led to Edith’s survival. Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction!

If you are interested in Russian history then this is a valuable resource. The small details in this book are the sort that get lost over the years and so it is great that these memoirs have been preserved and published after all this time, but I do think this book might be too specialised for the average reader.

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  1. Belle says:

    This is a type of memoir I enjoy, too. I’m not really one for historical fiction, but a memoir or biography of someone with roots deep in history is something very different for me, for some reason.

    1. Jackie says:

      Belle, I tend to prefer historical fiction to memoirs, but perhaps I just haven’t found the best memoirs for my taste yet? I think I need to investigate them a bit more.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I enjoy a memoir that features someone who has overcome adversity. The who time period and Russia thing would be appealing to me as well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I find that time period fascinating too – I must try and find a few more Russian books :-)

  3. Shelley says:

    I apologize for being a little off-topic here, but since you mentioned To Kill A Mockingbird elsewhere, I just wanted to bring up that the Horton Foote Society (he wrote the movie) has a website where you can actually see some video footage of this brilliant and gentle man.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shelley, Thanks for letting me know *heads off to take a look*

  4. Sandy says:

    I love memoirs, and I think that period in time is fascinating. It scares me a little bit that the pace was slow for you, though, as I tend to get bored.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I wouldn’t say I got bored, but I could only tolerate short bursts of this book as I suffered from information overload. It is great in small doses!

  5. What a fabulous find, Jackie!

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, I’m pleased that I was able to bring it to your attention :-)

  6. LizF says:

    I requested this from the library after seeing it reviewed on dovegreyreader but didn’t make much headway with it before someone else wanted it.
    I found the small amount that I managed to read absolutely fascinating, but it is very densely written and I came to the conclusion that I will wait for it to come out in paperback and actually buy it so I can take as long to read it as I want!

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, It is good to know that you enjoyed the bits you read. I can only say that it gets better as it goes on, so if you enjoyed the first part then you’ll love the rest. Enjoy reading the paperback slowly!

  7. Amy says:

    This sounds interesting, though the level of detail would kind of ruin the story for me too it sounds like.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I am an action over detail reader, but still found a lot to like in this book – it just requires a different approach to reading it. The great story is there, just buried under the facts ;-)

  8. Jeane says:

    Funny how sometimes stories don’t get interesting until suffering and hardship is involved. That’s when you see the real character shining through. It sounds like an interesting book, if a bit dull at the beginning.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, It sounds as though I’m a bit of a sadist, but I do think most of the best books in the world has some real hardship in. Glad I’m not alone in my weird thoughts ;-)

  9. Rebecca says:

    I have been meaning to read a bit more about Russian history for a couple of years, but have yet to get around to it. This book sounds really intriguing and might be a good point for me to start. Thanks for the review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I’m pleased that I bought it to your attention.

  10. John Knox says:

    I have just returned from the UK where I discovered a family history where it seems a relation of mine held a position with her family:
    “Jean was fortunate enough on her return to St. Petersburg to obtain a position with the Russian Count and Countess Sollohub (pronounced Sollogub) as Governess to their three children, a son and two daughters, Sacha, Nina and Elana. Whilst with this family Jean travelled a great deal – to Monte Carlo, Nice, Paris to name but a few.”
    The description of this book suggests three sons whereas this suggests a son & two daughters – could this be a different family?

    1. Jackie says:

      John, They have the same name, but I’m afraid I don’t know enough to know whether they are the same family, ancestors or unrelated.

      The author, Edith, had an older brother, Nicholas, and two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary.

      Edith went on to have three sons, but perhaps one of the other children went on to have Sacha, Nina and Elana?

      If you are interested in what life was like for your relation then I’m sure you’d find this book fascinating.

      Good luck with your research :-)

    2. valerie sollohub says:

      Reply of interest to John Knox:
      The family you are referring to (children called Sacha, Nina and Elena) are closely related (first-cousins-once removed)to the Sollohub family whose story is told in the book “The Russian Countess” by Edith Sollohub. I can give you more details if you are interested and willing to contact me. I knew about Jean Knox in her capacity as governess to those three children, and I have details of one of her descendants who lives in Hampshire and who was in touch with my husband Nicolas (the youngest boy in “The Russian Countess”) some years ago. Please email me.

      1. Jackie says:

        Valerie, Thank you for the information. I’ve passed your details on to John Knox, so hopefully he’ll get in touch with you soon.

      2. Anne Beirne says:

        Dear Valere:

        I have been researching the Nicholls family (William Nicholls, gov. of Sudan etc) and have a great deal of info about William’s mother’s family (Irish newspaper publishers) if you are interested.



        1. Jackie says:

          Anne, I’ve passed your details onto Valerie :-)


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